Over 37.000 full and supporter class Liberals will be casting their votes, for a new party leader, in person, by phone and on the internet in a few weeks.
The leadership will come down to a district by district battle for the hearts and choices of local Liberals or supporters. The 37,000 + supporters are surprisingly evenly distributed across the province.
The winner will need to earn 2,401 points out of a possible 4,800 points. YES, POINTS, NOT VOTES!
The selection process is weighed by each of the 48 districts. Each district is worth a total of 100 points. The first candidate to win 50% plus one point wins.
The points will be awarded according to EACH candidates percentage of the vote in each district. This balancing act ensures the equality of each individual district in the selection of the leader, despite the number of Liberals registered province wide.
Preferential balloting means that candidates are not just vying for members first choices but their second and third choices as well. Voters will rank their choices.
If no one candidate is successful in winning a majority on the first count, the second choice of the voters whose first choice drops off - will be tabulated. The process will repeat itself until one of the candidates hits the magic number of 2,401.
Determining who drops off, and when is a little murky. The interpretation of the rules is under debate and discussion. According to s.8 of the procedures " On a second count, if applicable, the first preference ballots cast
for the Candidate with the lowest total of points on the first count and
each candidate receiving less than five percent (5%) of total points on
the first count will be redistributed to the remaining Candidates in
accordance with the second preference selected on those ballots that
were cast for the Candidate that is no longer on the list".
At dispute is how many choices will be eliminated after the first vote. If one candidate or more receives less than 5%, their supports second choices are transferred. Jim Bennett and Danny Dumaresque will need greater than 5% support to stave-off automatic elimination. The one with the higher percentage of votes, if they are both above 5%, will stay for the second count.
The district of Humber Valley, represented in the House of Assembly by Liberal M.H.A Dwight Ball has the largest eligible voter list of the 48 districts at 1579. The smallest number of signed up members/supporters is in the Labrador district of Torngat Mountains where 394 Liberals/supporters are registered. In this contest, both districts are worth a total of 100 points.
The rest of the district membership numbers range from
550 in Burin-Placentia West to 1092 in the Bay of Islands.
Despite shaving off some 6,000 names from the over 42,000 that signed up prior to the October cut-off date, there are some concerns remaining
about the "verified" list. The lack of proper postal codes, phone
numbers and e-mails could result in several more thousand members not
being able to participate in the process.
The importance of these second choice votes is vital. None of the contenders will state publicly who there second choice is for fear of loosing potential second choice votes for their campaign. The result is an individual by individual assault by the candidates to capture that all important second choice.
There is also a lot of soft support amongst the top contenders who spend a small fortune on robocalls to hook supporters. These soft votes are considered to be up for grab as the campaigns aggressively vie for that all important first choice.
I see this race as a fairly tight three-way fight with no one candidate amassing enough support to win on the first ballot. This means that the thousands of votes directed to the bottom three candidates will ultimately decide who becomes the Liberal Leader.
Where will the hardcore support for Jim Bennett and Danny Dumeresque go? One might expect that Cathy Bennett will be challenged to pick-up much Dumeresque support considering their preferred candidates position on Churchill Falls, foreign hiring and Bennet's tenuous claim to have always been a Liberal. That support will go to Ball & Antle. If Danny is out before Jim Bennett, some of his support will go to Jim.
Likewise, if Jim Bennett is the first to go, where will his support go? I predict it will be split, with the largest chunk gravitating to the only other MHA in the race, Dwight Ball.
If there is no clear winner on the second ballot, who wins? That will be determined by who places third. If Cathy Bennett is in third place, Paul Antle's chances of clinching the win is pretty good. If Paul is in third, Dwight Ball will benefit. If Dwight Ball is sitting in third place after two ballots it could get really interesting.
There is plenty of room for upsets but barring a complete failure to deliver his support, or a significant regional imbalance of support, this race is former interim leader Dwight Ball's to loose.